Until July 2014, Dr Nikos Lavranos was working for the Dutch government as a senior policy advisor on bilateral investment treaties. He is an expert on international arbitration and investment law. He worked for the Dutch government for more than four years and he led the negotiations for several investment treaties; he was also the chief Dutch representative in the EU’s trade policy committee.
NGOs, including Transnational Institute, CEO and Friends of the Earth Europe, recently reported that the Dutch investment treaties, which Lavranos helped to negotiate, are generally considered as some of the most investor-friendly in Europe. In conjunction with its company-friendly tax regime, the vaguely-worded investment treaties are the reason why the Netherlands ranks second worldwide in originating arbitration claims. The practice of channelling investments through favourable jurisdictions, called “treaty shopping”, is generally considered one of the abuses of the ISDS system.
In June 2012, while still working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lavranos gave a speech at the world’s largest pro-arbitration conference, where he criticised attempts by the EU to reform the current investment treaty system:
“The idea was that the EU, having the power to speak with one voice, could actually get a better deal. But what we have seen here, at this moment, is that because of other policy influences from the NGOs, from the EP, we’re narrowing down and levelling down our investor protection.”
On 1 July 2014, the European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA) was launched in Brussels; it aims to be the "main voice" of users of investment arbitration at the EU level. Lavranos co-founded EFILA and is the secretary general of the organisation which also includes law firms representing some of Europe's biggest companies.
The setting-up of EFILA is thought to be a direct response to recent hard-hitting criticisms (including from Corporate Europe Observatory, MEPs and some nation state governments) of the European Commission's proposals to include ISDS provisions within TTIP and CETA.
Lavranos is quoted as saying:
"We became increasingly annoyed that there were so many lies and half-truths and propaganda out there and no counterbalance. We felt there was a clear need for investment arbitration practitioners to pool their expertise and explain to the public the benefits of investor-state arbitration".
He also said:
"Nobody argues that the current investment arbitration system is perfect … There is no doubt that the system has to evolve if it wants to survive. But we believe that most, if not all, of the critique is highly exaggerated and based on wrong perceptions."
EFILA says it will publish policy briefs and case law analysis, engage in dialogue with EU institutions and society at large, and hold lectures, seminars and an annual conference.
EFILA has joined the EU lobby register, declaring less than €9,999 lobby expenditure for the six months to November 2014 (viewed 2 July 2015). It lists four lobbyists registered with the European Parliament, including Lavranos, and identifies TTIP as one of the dossiers it currently lobbies on. It has had at least one meeting with the Commission to discuss ISDS, in October 2014.
Of the EFILA corporate members, Achmea, Herbert Smith Freehills, Luther Rechtsanwaltsgesellschaft mbH, Mannheimer Swartling, NautaDutilh and White & Case are not listed with the EU lobby register either.
The EFILA also has an advisory board which brings together representatives from law firms, major companies such as Shell, and from governments. The EFILA says that they “serve in their personal capacity and shall be completely independent from the organisations in which they are employed or hold mandates”. The report Lawyers subverting the public interest provides additional information on their backgrounds.
In September 2014, Lavranos also joined Global Investment Protection AG in Zürich as Head of Legal Affairs. The consultancy advises companies in how to structure investments to have access to the most investor-friendly arbitration routes in case of “unreasonable governmental action” such as “regulatory and tax measures”. Other services of the company include “pre-emptive lobbying and intervention” and developing funding strategies for investor-state claims. Global Investment Protection commented on the appointment that
“[with] Nikos Lavranos in our team we can offer investors hands-on knowledge on how to defend [investor assets] against destructive government interventions.”
CEO contacted Dr Lavranos before publishing this profile but he declined to comment.
CEO's report on revolving door cases related to TTIP can be found here.
“It is clear that Lavranos has seamlessly walked from a key position with the Dutch government negotiating ISDS provisions in trade deals – now one of the hottest topics in the whole TTIP negotiation - through the revolving door to lobby, on behalf of private interests, on identical, ISDS issues at the EU level. The Dutch government needs to urgently develop some tough revolving door rules to prevent future moves like this which raise the strong risk of possible conflicts of interest”.